Herricks $108.2 million budget proposal, capital reserve on ballot

James Galloway

Herricks School District’s ballot next week will include referendums on its $108.2 million budget proposal, the creation of a capital reserve and two uncontested races for the district’s Board of Education.

The budget proposal looks to continue to restore programs and positions cuts during the economic downturn, when the state’s property tax cap and ballooning benefit costs forced the district to eliminate about 100 positions.

The proposed $108.2 million budget is 0.6 percent higher — about $650,000 — than the current 2014-15 budget.

It is the savings from a significant drop in the employer pension contribution rate, however, that would allow the district to add a proposed 12 teaching positions and reinstate the elementary school class size caps that were suspended four years ago.

Superintendent John Bierwirth and Board of Education President James Gounaris have both said that restoring the caps has been a top priority for the district. Kindergarten classes would be capped at 22 students, first to third grades would be capped at 25 students, and grades four and five would be capped at 27 students. “It was really nice to be able to restore at least some of the things we’ve had to cut over the last four years,” Bierwirth said about the proposed budget in a previous interview. “First and foremost [we wanted to] get class sizes back down.”

A capital reserve would allow the district to transfer leftover money at the end of the fiscal year into a fund that could be used for infrastructure projects and improvements and would help the district avoid borrowing or bonding. The proposed reserve would have a 10-year life span and a maximum of $5 million.

In his budget recommendations, Bierwirth said establishing a capital reserve would allow Herricks to “address at least some major capital projects in a more flexible and timely manner.”

“Instead of waiting for something to become irreparable and, thereby, become eligible to be replaced on an emergency basis or…put out a bond, the district would be able to tap the reserve,” he said in a memo.

The Board of Education unanimously adopted the budget proposal and the capital reserve referendum and generally expressed their support at board meetings.

“I feel good about this,” Board of Education Trustee Nancy Feinstein said at one meeting.

Feinstein and Brian Hassan are both running unopposed for re-election to the Board of Education.

Feinstein, the mother of two children at Herricks High School, was first elected three years ago, also in an uncontested election. Feinstein, the board vice president, coaches Center Street School team for Girls on the Run, a non-competitive running program that trains girls for a 5K run and focuses on social and life lessons.

“It’s really one of the best programs that I’ve seen,” she said.

Going into next term, she said she would like to help oversee the transition of the district’s incoming superintendent and find a “great” high school principal. Bierwirth and Herricks High School principal Jane Modoono both retire this summer.

Hassan, who has daughters in the middle and high schools, also won an uncontested seat three years ago. Several years before he joined the board, Hassan, a PSEG employee, helped the district transition to dual-fuel technology, allowing it to operate on the cheaper of oil or natural gas.

Herricks director of facilities James Brown said the change saves the district between $100,000 and $125,000 per year and reduces emissions.

“When oil was skyrocketing, it was saving us quite a lot of money,” Brown said. “It really helped the school district tremendously, at it was through [Hassan’s] intercession on our behalf that that really happened.”

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19 at the Herricks Community Center gymnasium, located at 999 Herricks Road in New Hyde Park.

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